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Winning The Hour

When editing or mentoring overeager young journalists, my friend and former Slate colleague Jack Shafer, now media columnist for Reuters, loves to repeat something Warren Beatty once said to the bombastic screenwriter John Milius. (The source is an interview with the depressive screenwriter Paul Schrader in Film Comment; Shafer has been using Beatty's line since that issue hit the newsstands in March 1976.) Beatty, Milius, and Schrader were having a script meeting and Beatty was trying to convey to Milius what was wrong with his full-tilt, relentlessly unmodulated approach. Finally, Hollywood's most prolific seducer of women blurted out, "You come too soon, and you come too often."

Beatty's admonition is a pithy critique of what's wrong with much journalism nowadays, as the news cycle dwindles to nanoseconds and the demand for fresh copy approaches infinity. It is most definitely what's wrong with Politico, a publication about which many praiseworthy things can be said but which tends sometimes to say things for nothing more than the simple pleasure of hearing its own voice. The latest example of this is Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman's new feature, "Who won the day."

Mitt Romney won Dec. 27, Rick Santorum won Dec. 28, Ron Paul won Dec. 29. Dec. 30 belonged to Newt Gingrich. Nobody won Dec. 31, I guess because everybody was too drunk, and nobody won Jan. 1, presumably because everybody was hung over. Mitt won Jan. 2, and the state of Iowa won Jan. 3 (a variation on the election-night time-filler venerated by TV talking heads, "The real winners here are the American people"). Mitt won (again!) on Jan. 4 because he won the Iowa caucuses the night before. Newt won Jan. 5 for wailing on Mitt, though that's about the only thing Newt's won lately. As I write this, the Feast of the Epiphany is unspoken for, but it seems a crime not to give it to the pious Rick S.

The new feature is actually an old feature from 2008 (all is vanity), now being revived to rev up coverage. It is just about the perfect Politico self-parody. At Politico, somebody has to be winning and someone has to be losing every minute of every hour of every day. Who won the HUD authorization bill? Who won the hearing about the Law of the Sea? Who won yesterday's copy of the Congressional Record? Who won Aunt Gertrude's Social Security check? Who won Richard Cordray's haircut? (Not Richard Cordray, I'm sorry to say. But now, look, they've got me doing it.)

There are many things wrong with our political system, but a shortage of competitions to be judged like sporting events isn't one of them. I think it's time for Politico's editorial staff to be sent on a retreat and forced to endure 48 hours of cooperative games like Blob Tag and Pong. Days are not for winning. They're for living.